The President of the National Rice Federation of Liberia (NRFL), Mohammed Kamara, says the government will need to invest more into the rice sub-sector in order to boost domestic rice production.
According to him, it will require an investment of not less than US$10 million within the period of five years to build the capacities of farmers, processors and other actors of the rice value chain.
In an exclusive interview with the Daily Observer at his office on the Somalia Drive, Monrovia, Mr. Kamara said that the rice sector is still faced with numerous challenges, including limited access to improved seeds and inputs, as well as the lack of market for locally produced rice.
“We will need sufficient funds to address the challenges facing domestic rice production.
Kamara said if only the government could invest more into the sector, farmers will have access to improved seeds, and other inputs to increase production and processors’ capacities will be built to supply the market.
“With such an investment that we would anticipate in the rice sector, processors will not have to worry about the rice market.
According to him, rice processors are currently finding it difficult to market their produce due to the lack of funding facing institutional buyers and the government’s inability to continue buying locally produced rice for supply to its employees, hospitals and orphanages.
The government in the past years bought tons of rice from processors to supply to its employees, hospitals and orphanages. Mr. Kamara said such an arrangement is no longer constant.
Commenting on the money disbursed by the government in 2019 in the form of loans to processors to boost rice production and processing, Kamara said that the amount was not enough to purchase the amount of paddy the processors needed to process.
It can be recalled that in 2019, the government signed a loan collateral guaranteed agreement worth US$ 700,000.00 with eight major rice processors to enhance rice production and processing. This amount, Kamara said at the time, was not enough to drive the process.
“The money that was made available to the processors was small,” he said.
According to Kamara, the loans provided to the processors were used to purchase some quantity of paddy from the farmers.
However, he stated that due to the lack of buyers, the processors are finding it difficult to market their rice produce to enable them to pay back the loan on time.
He said that they were appealing to the local bank to allow them more time for the loan repayment.
Meanwhile, the rice sector president has acknowledged the contribution of the Ministry of Agriculture to assist farmers.
“We are working with the Ministry to assist farmers, but we would like the assistance to pass through the Federation to ensure sustainability,” he explained.
“When you’re giving support to local farmers, the items provided should be turned into cash and then the processors will now buy the rice at the low price,” he added.
Kamara stated that the capacities of some of the processors are gradually being upgraded to address the issue of rice market challenges confronting farmers in the sector.
He said that they are identifying abandoned swampland and improving irrigation to increase the level of rice production.
“Market constraints facing farmers is something that will soon be addressed as the facilities of some of the processors, which include my company, are being transformed to industrialized facilities,” he said.
“Our facility is getting transformed to a mechanized equipment to address post-harvest losses. This is what we are doing right now in Lofa,” he added.
At the same time, Kamara has stated that there is no allocation being made in the budget for the rice sector this year, despite Finance Minister Samuel Tweh’s promise to allot some money every year in the country’s national budget for the rice sector.
“We are looking up to the government to make an allotment in the next national budget,” he said.